MIDLOTHIAN — If Friday night's Waxahachie-Midlothian district matchup at Midlothian was any proof, Ellis is becoming the home of District 10-5A volleyball.
Midlothian High School (22-13 overall, 6-3 in district) pushed Waxahachie's Lady Indians, the No. 6 team as viewed by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, to five sets, nearly knocking off the district's only undefeated team. Though Waxahachie High School (33-8 overall, 9-0 in district) took the first set 25-18, the Lady Panthers ensured the Lady Indians' road to keep a 10-game streak alive would be with fraught with adversity.
"Midlothian's such a great team and it's so hard to come and play them in their gym," said Sandy Faussett, the Lady Indians head coach. "That's a well-coached and tough team with great hitters. I'm really proud of us for not giving up when they could have after going down 2-1 in the third set."
After a slow first set, the intensity quickened in the second third and fourth, as each team used precision and technique to parry the other's attack and limit the games eventual common denominator — unforced errors.
Between the beginning of the second set and the end of the fourth, Waxahachie outpaced Midlothian 23-21 in unforced errors. The Lady Panthers committed seven during a 28-26 second-set win and only two during the 25-18 third set victory.
The play of junior outside hitter Sydney Little (23 kills, 15 digs, 3 blocks, 3 aces) also helped combat the red-hot play of WHS senior Shelby Martin (22 kills, 34 assists, 10 digs, 4 aces) in the middle of the five-round county bout. While Little posted nine kills, one block and a serving ace during the second and third, Martin led all players with 12 kills and an ace during that time frame.
Martin triple-double wasn't the only double-digit performance of the match for the Lady Indians, though.
Junior setter Taylor Stoops finished with 30 assists, 12 digs and sophomore Audrey Nalls had 19 kills, 10 digs and two aces, while senior Hannah Ramirez (25) and sophomore Alli Wells (16) led in digs and senior Madelyn Ward was third in kills (14) and second (.345) in hitting percentage behind Martin's .436.
Whether it was second set kills by senior Georgia Cappell that helped Midlothian even the match, a stuff block by sophomore Essence Clerkley that kept WHS in the third set or three kills by senior Nikki Almaguer that win the fifth, the teams traded leads like weary prizefighters and paired starting and bench offensive production like deadly jabs and bout-ending haymakers.
"I think the fourth set was the set that had the most amount of pressure and emotion. We saw the most amount of fight out of the girls then, too," Faussett said. "Nikki's an aggressive player and I like that style of play and it was what we wanted going into the fourth. She and the girls came off the bench aggressively and it worked out for us. It was great because they've got to be able to handle the pressure and be aggressive in a situation like that. Going into the set, I told them our main focus was being aggressive and that I didn't care if we lost we can leave the court with no regrets."
The Lady Indians roared back in the fourth and fifth sets, winning 29-27 and 15-10, behind a rally'sparking kill by Clerkley, back-to-back kills by Almaguer and eight total by Nalls. Senior outside hitter Amarie Hester helped the Waxahachie rallies, too, adding a point via sniper-like aces in the first set and a crucial kill in the fourth.
She finished with one kill, two digs and four digs.
"[Bench production] is such a need," she continued. "Anyone and everyone can step up. They all have different strengths and you never know whose is going to help the most. It took us a while to get there, but we found what was working best against Midlothian."
The battle between the district's No. 1 and No. 2 teams was played on the same night an upstart Red Oak High School team beat Mansfield Lake Ridge High School, the former No. 3 team, in five sets to leapfrog the Lady Eagles. While the win gives Waxahachie at least a three-game lead on the rest of the district, the loss drops Midlothian into a two-way tie with Red Oak — which they will play in the season finale on Oct. 25 — for second place in 10-5A.
Midlothian will face Mansfield Legacy High School at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at MLHS Gymnasium and the Lady Indians are scheduled to play Mansfield Summit High School (13-16 overall, 3-6 in district) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at George W. Solis Gymnasium.
The Lady Panthers shut out Mansfield Legacy in three sets on Sept. 16 and Waxahachie defeated the Lady Jaguars 3-0 on Sept. 20.